Sunday, December 27, 2009
A week ago I was in DC Jail -- This is a reflection
A week ago, I was spending my third and last night in DC Jail. A loud, violent and cruel place. A place populated by young black men, as a white inmate I was an extreme minority. And as a gay white man of somewhat slight build, I elected to get the protective custody order from Judge Lynn Liebovitz upon my sentencing. My sentencing, in retrospect was not that severe, and this is because my pre-sentencing officer had recommended probation and I admitted that my days of being arrested for expressing my moral and ethical beliefs (which put me in complete opposition to the U.S. Government’s foreign policy) were over. Perhaps someday, when I am retired and close to my friend Eve Tetaz’s age I may resume nonviolent civil resistance against the moral bankruptcy and downright evil policies of the U.S. Empire, but for now I choose a different life for my lifetime partner and myself.
Many of you have expressed an interest in discussing my experiences further, and I am open to accepting questions from you once you have finished reading this small essay of mine. However, I was only there a short while, and I am not familiar with the women’s privately run jail. Also, I think Catholic Workers who have done jail time in excess of a year might provide greater insight, especially if you think you will be doing more than a small handful of days in prison.
Why do I say my sentencing was not that severe? Because we are dealing with Judge Liebovitz in this case. She is well known as a harsh sentencer. She gave Ellen Barfield 25 days jail time, and another 50 suspended during her entire year of supervised probation. I only got four days (which in DC jail time is more like three) and nine months supervised probation. Eve’s sentencing was delayed due to health concerns and a possible medical procedure. However, she is likely to not receive much compassion from Judge Liebovitz, who said that our actions were selfish and extremely egotistical. She was also disturbed that Ellen and Eve chose to scatter money with their own blood on it in a Senate hearing room. In my opinion their actions were powerful, as the US Government spends our tax dollars every single day creating more bloodshed in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan. I only spoke out, quoting John Kerry’s own 1971 anti-war words back to him, trying to remind him of who he was and why he was morally outraged during another illegal and immoral quagmire of a war. Such audacity. How dare we?
And yet, the price is rather high. If you are going to jail alone with no other political dissidents with you, it can be an extremely dangerous place. The DC Jail, at least the men’s, has been locked down for nearly three weeks now since they found a handgun hidden there. There are persistent rumors that there is a second handgun hidden somewhere there, as well. Lockdown means you are in your cell for 23 hours, with one hour to shower and look at the TV for a few minutes before returning to your cell. I was in lockdown regardless, because that’s what protective custody is. Also, protective custody means you get your own cell. For those who are gay or transgender, or possibly convicted of a crime that would thoroughly piss off other inmates – they typically receive this status.
They do feed you three meals a day, but the obnoxious sounds of yelling, cursing, and threatening inmates will keep you up all night. As I left the jail, one guard said to me: “No I don’t think you will be coming back. This is hell on earth.”
I heard constant comments oppressive of women, dehumanizing of gays, and extremely disrespectful of each other among the inmates. This is a product of a country, which is seriously ill, which does not seem to care about its poor. Where many of the rest of us pretend poverty and lack of education is not a major issue. Where there are very few opportunities for those who are poor and of color. The statistic I am familiar with in DC regarding incarceration is that at any given time one in five black men under the age of 40 are in prison.
Part of the journey of nonviolent resistance is incarceration. It is a fairly serious sacrifice. I doubt that there are many Americans willing to travel this route now, unless the wars and torture impact their lives directly. How many will go into the jailhouse for altruistic reasons? And how many of us are actually doing this for our own selfish reasons – somewhat of a messiah complex? My words are harsh, but I have though about this topic for a long while now. While I admire Eve, Ellen, and the many great ploughshares activists, I have come to realize two important points for myself. Firstly, while I don’t regret any of my civil resistance actions and do believe that I was trying to highlight the US Empire’s own criminal behavior on a massive scale, I have come to accept that this is no longer my struggle. At this point, I feel that I have done my part and now I am interested in other endeavors, perhaps on a more local level, working in some capacity where the US Government has failed people. Secondly, I basically have no hope that the US Government can be “reformed” or somehow redeemed from the awful and corrupt system that it has become, an engine for the violent and oppressive US Empire.
Many of you, dear friends, will continue with civil resistance actions. However, I urge you to prepare yourselves psychologically for jail. Many of you will endure it alone. I don’t think there will be what many of us had hoped for, a massive wave of growing numbers of people willing to engage in such great actions. Cindy Sheehan continues to hold onto this hope through her planning of Peace of the Action in March. I’ve been at this for about five years now, and I know even progressives are far more forgiving of Obama than they were of the fool from Texas. I just don’t see it happening. But good luck and may God/Goddess smile upon you.